Most helpful positive review
58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
An excellent collection by an outstanding writer
on 16 August 2009
Nearly all of John Berger's books are worth five stars, in my opinion (the exceptions being a couple of his early novels). I wasn't thinking of writing a review of "About Looking", but the sheer inanity of the other review provoked me into doing so. (It's not Berger's fault that the other reviewer didn't bother to find out what this book was about before buying it.)
"About Looking" is a selection of essays mostly about artists and photographers, although there are also some classic pieces of sui generis critical-historical meditation, such as the extraordinary "Field". Most of these essays date from the late 60s and early 70s, when Berger was in a period of transition; he had left England for good and was relocating himself and his family in rural France, where he still lives. This was also the period of his controversial Booker-winning novel "G.", his most commercially successful work of fiction (although I personally prefer his later novels).
Among the pieces included here are his justly famous essay on August Sander's 1914 photograph of three young German farmers going to a country dance, as well as superb essays on Magritte, Rouault, Courbet and De Stijl. One of my personal favourites is his provocative comparison of the work of Francis Bacon with the cartoons of Walt Disney. It makes more sense than it sounds, and you'll never watch Goofy the same way again.
Not the least value of this book is that it does, in fact, contain a lot of valuable information about "why we are more attracted to certain things"; Berger as an art critic is distinguished by being far more attentive to human needs and desires than most of his peers.
An essay by Berger contains more thought than most writers can fit into a book. This is perhaps not the best place to start if you want an overview of Berger the critic; that would be the brilliant "Selected Essays", beautifully edited by Geoff Dyer. But once you start reading Berger, only the very dim or very right-wing don't get hooked. He is an inspiration.